Local doctor calls prescription drug abuse an "epidemic"

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Prescription drug abuse and overdoses have risen by almost 400 percent since 1990, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Middle-aged women are now the most common prescription drug addicts.

"Unfortunately, prescription drug abuse has really reached epidemic proportions nationally, regionally and locally," said Dr. Shane Speights with St. Bernards Medical Center.

Dr. Speights said there are patients who legitimately need prescription pills for chronic pain, but those are few and far between compared to the number of addicts abusing them. 

"These are great drugs and they do a good job of controlling pain, but there's also a high potential for these to be abused," Speights said.

Dr. Speights said many of these abusers do not realize there are multiple drugs in one pill. He said the painkiller could quickly become the killer.

"You may be taking two, three, four, five times the amount of Tylenol that you should be taking and not even know it," Speights said. "That can be severely damaging to your liver and the rest of your body."

CDC data shows 20 percent of prescription painkillers come from doctors. The remaining 80 percent comes from illegal street purchases, stealing, but mostly from friends or relatives who give their medications away for free.

"When a physician or provider writes a prescription for an individual, it's specifically for that person, based on age, health conditions, sometimes weight," Speights said. "It was not intended for someone else so it's really dangerous to start taking someone else's medications."

Dr. Speights said these patients should instead lockup their prescriptions and doctors could do a better job of policing their prescriptions.

"Do they really need this much pain medication, should they be taking this many at one time, do they really need three to four refills to where they can actually get 60, 90, 120 pills at once?," Speights said.

There are some safety measures to stop the spread of prescriptions painkillers. For example, if someone tries to copy a prescription, the copier prints a duplicate is covered in "void."

However, this still does not stop what Dr. Speights calls "doctor shoppers."

"They're getting two and three prescriptions for pain medications from multiple doctors," Speights said.

However, doctors are starting to catch on to them with the help of the Arkansas Prescription Monitoring Program, a state database that tracks patients and their prescriptions.

Dr. Speights hopes prescription painkiller abuse decreases as more doctors start monitoring this site on a regular basis.

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